Growing Grace Podcast: The Longest Night

What if you could step outside your door and find a space for connection with yourself and God — a time apart to center your soul and renew your spirit. This podcast invites listeners to get out of their heads and out into nature by engaging in contemplative prayer practices and meditative activities that support spiritual formation and emotional wellbeing.  Welcome to Growing Grace.

I am your host, Cameron Kempson, a spiritual director, homesteader and contemplative.  Tonight, our topic is the Winter Soltice or even more specifically, the Longest Night.  Several years ago, I attended a Longest Night service at a local Episcopal church. I was moved by the opportunity to step into the darkness of Advent and into my own spiritual “night” and be with others who were seeking a glimmer of light or hope or peace in the midst of pain or struggle or loneliness.

After that moving exerpience, I began leading Longest Night service at my church, only to find that over time, the numbers dwindled.  I know that there are people out there like me, seekers of light in the darkness, and sometimes, it can be a challenge just to show up in order to have our souls fed. 

And so, I’ve chosen the Longest Night service as a way to dive into hosting a weekly podcast. If you have found these words at this time, I hope they move you or touch you in some way that brings you closer to your Creator.  I invite you to just be.

the longest night

Last night was our Longest Night service at Skyland UMC.  I began the service in 2013 after attending one at another church during a very dark time for my soul.  It was so healing for me at this time of year that I felt called to widen the circle and offer it our church.  This was my message last night.  ~cameron

Back in September, I had the unexpected opportunity to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway from Waynesville to Asheville.  Even though it was a lovely sunny day, very few people were up there—it couldn’t have been more perfect bec/, you see, I was beginning to make that internal shift from summer into autumn.  While autumn and winter are my favorite seasons, I also approach them with some wariness as my depression heightens at this time of year.

Getting outside or going up into the mountains to be in God’s creation is very comforting to my soul so ending up on the Parkway that Saturday was a nice surprise.  As I traveled down the mountain after Pisgah, I approached the longest tunnel between there and Asheville.  If you’ve ever been up that way, you know that tunnel because it is the only one that you cannot see beginning and end at the same time.  There is a bend in the middle where it is completely dark.

As I approached the entrance, I slowed down to a crawl.  As I drove into the darkness, I glanced in my rearview mirror and realized that the light was slowly fading and ahead of me grew darker.  It almost felt like a metaphor for how I enter each year into autumn and winter—I see the light of summer slowly dimming behind me and the way ahead seems to darken.  I can’t do anything but travel forward bec/ that’s the direction I need to go to get to the next place.

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Sometimes that’s how life can be for us—we enter a season that feels like a tunnel.  Whether it’s grief or pain or life in general—we can see the light of past happiness or contentedness and we find ourselves propelled forward on a darkening path.  It can be disorienting, uncomfortable, and challenging.

So take a moment, and think of yourselves in the bend of that dark tunnel.  There is light that has disappeared behind you, and you believe yourself to be in complete darkness. Yet if you sit in that tunnel with your eyes wide open, you notice something.  You begin to perceive shadows and edges.  There is just enough light in that darkness that helps orient you to the space you’re in and even centers you a bit in that darkness.

That’s where we are tonight, on the longest night.  We have the least light available to us but if we open our eyes and our hearts, we can still sense the light there with us.  Just like Immanuel, God with us.  Jesus didn’t come to remove all darkness, sadness and pain—rather, he came to bring a new light, a new hope, a new peace.

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For those living in darkness then and those who experience it now, Jesus serves as the light at the end of the tunnel.  A light so strong and far reaching that even when we are at the darkest point, we still are still assured that God is with us.  And that as we move forward on the path through this particular season or time or experience, that light will guide us to the next point on our journey.

Know that in this place here tonight, you are not alone.  Some of us here are grieving or struggling, lonely or lamenting.  Some of us are caregiving to people in need.  Some of us are here to just be.  Whatever reason brought you here, know this—the birth of Jesus reminds us that the light of God’s love is there for us, with us and in us.  Each of us, all of us.  Amen.

 

 

 

lessons learned: the mosaic of brokenness and wholeness

This coming Sunday, a dear friend and I will be co-leading a “Longest Night” service.  Designed for healing and peace, this worship opportunity is often offered on the longest night of the year, the night when Darkness wraps her arms around us and holds on as long as she can.

In this season, I have often experienced a sense of struggle and brokenness which, while normal, seems out of place while others are celebrating.  My hope for this service is that it will offer comfort, hope, and wholeness to those who engage in the experience.

With that in mind, I have been meditating on the relationship between brokenness and wholeness, healing and hurt this past week.  It seemed relevant to repost this meditation from a couple of years ago.  ~cameron

God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength.

~Vance Havner

Recently, my daughter and I spent an afternoon together at a local paint-it-yourself pottery shop.  As we entered, an area with mosaic pieces caught my eye.  I’ve always wanted to learn this art form but have found it a bit intimidating—so many shapes, not enough symmetry.  I was open, however, to trying it and picked out a bird to decorate.mosaic bird

As I began my work, I realized I was concentrating too much on creating a pattern.  Determined to be outside of my comfort zone, I stopped looking for shapes that mirrored each other or fit together well and just randomly placed pieces on the bird.  As I was working, I realized that this process was about more than making art.  It was truly a metaphor for my spiritual life.

Here my fingertips danced across handfuls of broken pieces of colored glass.  Each of these smaller parts had once been connected together to form one perfect, smooth object.  Then something happened, and that object had been shattered or cut into many shards—some sharp, some jagged, some straight.  I chose those small pieces and put them back together to create something new, something beautiful.

In our life’s journey, we experience challenges that leave us broken—our hearts or spirits feel as if they will never be put back together the right way, and honestly, how can they be?  Those moments change us.  The grace, however, is in the healing.  Those pieces of our heart or spirit come back together in a different way.  Some pieces may be jagged while others smooth out over time, but what is amazing, is that they have created something new, something that has a purpose to better serve this world.